Overt Monetary Financing would flush out the ideological disdain for fiscal policy

There was an article (May 24, 2016) – Helicopter money: The illusion of a free lunch – written by three institutional bank economists (two from the BIS, the other from the central bank of Thailand), which concluded that Overt Monetary Financing (OMF), where the bank provides the monetary capacity to support much larger fiscal deficits with no further debt being issued to the non-government sector, was “too good to be true”, in the sense that it “comes with a heavy price” – summarised as “giving up on monetary policy forever“. The argument they make is very consistent with the work that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) proponents have published for more 20 years now, which is now starting to penetrate the mainstream banking analysis. However, the conclusion they draw is not supported by the original MMT proponents who would characterise OMF as a highly desirable policy development, more closely representative of the intrinsic monetary capacity of the government. The article also raises questions of what we mean by a “free lunch”, a term which was popularised (but not invented) by Monetarist Milton Friedman. Its use in economics is always loaded towards the mainstream view that government interventions are costly. But if we really appraise what the term “no such thing as a free lunch” really means then, once again, we are more closely operating in the MMT realm which stresses real resource constraints and exposes the fallacies of financial constraints that are meant to apply to currency-issuing governments.
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    Posted in Central banking, Debriefing 101 | 2 Comments

    Australian inflation rate – trending down and reflecting a weak economy

    The newly-elected conservative Australian government has resumed office with further calls for public spending cuts. Today’s Australian Bureau of Statistics inflation data should disabuse them of this idea. The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the Consumer Price Index, Australia – data for the June-quarter 2016 today and showed that the June-quarter inflation rate was 0.4 per cent (-0.2 per cent) with an annual inflation rate of 1.0 per cent (down from 1.3 per cent last quarter). The headline inflation rate has been below the Reserve Bank of Australia’s lower target bound of 2 per cent for nearly two years now. Clearly, within their own logic where an inflation rate within the 2 to 3 per cent band reflects successful monetary policy, the RBA is failing. The RBA’s preferred core inflation measures – the Weighted Median and Trimmed Mean – are also now below the lower target bound and are trending sharply downwards. Various measures of inflationary expectations are also falling quite sharply, including the longer-term, market-based forecasts. With the labour market data demonstrating weakness and the economy stuck in this low inflation malaise, it is clearly time for a change in policy direction. I won’t hold my breath!
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      Posted in Inflation | 1 Comment

      The Bank of Japan needs to introduce Overt Monetary Financing next

      The latest survey data from the Bank of Japan is interesting and supports a growing awareness among policy makers that monetary policy has run its course and will have to work more closely with active fiscal policy to stimulate economic growth. These insights have been a hallmark of ideas advanced for many years now by Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) proponents (including myself). The data shows that the negative interest rate and large-scale quantitative easing programs that the Bank of Japan has been pursuing have not had their desired effect. It was clear when they were announced that they would fail to achieve their goals. I wrote about that in 2009 and 2010. But it seems that the mainstream policy debate has to be dragged kicking and screaming through a series of policy failures before any progress is made towards actual solutions that will work. The Bank of Japan Board meets later this week and I am hoping they announce their intention to work closely with the Ministry of Finance (fiscal policy) to introduce Overt Monetary Financing (OMF) where the bank provides the monetary capacity to support much larger fiscal deficits with no further debt being issued to the non-government sector. That would finally put policy on track to do something effective and productive. It would also provide some policy leadership to guide other nations towards a more prosperous future (like Britain).
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        Posted in Economics | 8 Comments

        Brainbelts – only a part of a progressive future

        Last week, the US Republican Party held an extraordinary convention in Cleveland, an old rustbelt manufacturing town. I say extraordinary because I guess you have to be American to understand how grown adults can systematically humiliate themselves for several days with the rest of the world looking on wondering WTF was going on! Anyway, just down the road from Cleveland is Akron, Ohio, which is being held out as a model for the new era of prosperity in advanced nations. I caution against believing that hypothesis. It was proposed in a book I have just finished – The Smartest Places on Earth – written by two Dutch writers (published 2016). It carried the subtitle “Why Rustbelts are the Emerging Hotspots of Global Innovation”. I do not recommend anyone purchase it even though it is getting rave reviews around the place. I see it as a sort of replay of the 1990s ‘New Regionalism’ mania that emerged as part of the Third Way movement, which the now discredited Tony Blair promoted as the entrepreneurial solution to turn regions into sub-national export centres to replace the ‘nation state’, that had been (according to the narrative) rendered powerless and irrelevant by globalisation. The book introduces the notion of the “Brainbelt”, which the authors claim are revitalising the “former rustbelt areas” and “bringing new competitiveness to the United States and Europe” – a sort of counter-strategy to foil the jobs lost to the low-cost nations such as China and the Asian economies in general. The problem is that the growth strategy seems to leave the worker behind!
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          Posted in Demise of the Left, US economy | 18 Comments

          The Weekend Quiz – July 23-24, 2016 – answers and discussion

          Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.
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            Posted in Saturday quiz | 2 Comments

            The Weekend Quiz – July 23-24, 2016

            Welcome to The Weekend Quiz, which used to be known as the Saturday Quiz! The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention over the last seven days. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.
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              The case for re-nationalisation – Part 2

              There was an interesting article written in the London Review of Books (September 13, 2012) by regular contributor James Meek in – How We Happened to Sell Off Our Electricity (you need to subscribe to read it). It discussed how the obsession with privatisation in Britain, which was meant to reduce state control of this sector, has led to the state still being dominant in electricity production. The only problem for the British is that the French government now owns a large swathe of the ‘privatised’ British electricity industry. The outcome demonstrates the absurdity of the whole privatisation debate. This example is not unique. State-owned enterprises have eaten up inefficient privately owned firms all around the world as governments sell off public assets in the belief that prices will fall, services will improve and costs will be lower. The reality now some 35 years or so into the privatisation experiment is that none of these claims have been realised. In many cases, costs are higher and the privatised firms rely on higher public subsidies than was the case when the operations were completely in public hands. Prices are no uniformly lower after privatisation. Profit-seeking firms seek to gain by cutting costs and under investing in essential infrastructure, which leads to poor outcomes for Society (blackouts, poor repair times etc). And, millions of jobs have been lost in this cost-cutting mania. As a result, we argue that a ‘Progressive Manifesto’ must include the case for re-nationalisation of many sectors, which are intrinsic to advancing the well-being of Society. Progressive parties should start researching and demonstrating how this policy will take us into the next century where green, sustainable production is the norm and there are high levels of public service available from these key sectors, rather than allow critics to argue that the re-nationalisation agenda is just a return to the dark old days of inefficient state enterprises where cronyism, nepotism and corruption was rife.
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                Posted in Britain, Demise of the Left, UK Economy | 23 Comments

                Irish national accounts – smoke and mirrors really

                Last week (July 12, 2016), the Irish Central Statistics Office published updated – National Income and Expenditure Annual Results – which revealed that between 2014 and 2015, the economy grew by a staggering 26.3 per cent (while the implied inflation rate was 6.1 per cent – difference between GDP at current prices and GFP at constant (2014) prices). They had earlier estimated (based on incomplete data) that real GDP would grow by 7.8 per cent between 2014 and 2015. So quite a difference. In expenditure terms, the CSO, estimated that “exports grew by 34.4%” and “Gross physical capital formation” grew by 26.7 per cent between 2014 and 2015. Over the last several months, I have received many unsolicited E-mails from people I don’t even know, suggesting I might bring my blog to an end because I am quite obviously incompetent. The reason: I maintain that Ireland is not a poster child for austerity. So do these startlingly positive National Accounts data suggest that my critics are on the ball. Does it prove that that austerity has turned Ireland around. Well, it doesn’t prove anything of the sort. What it actually ‘proves’ is the familiar proposition that if you add something large to something small and express the change in percentage terms the result will be large. That is what the latest national accounts results demonstrate. A closer examination of the results then tell you what that ‘large’ thing is, which leaves one to conclude that Ireland hasn’t made very much progress at all. Okay, so you can now stop sending me E-mails lecturing me about how stupid I am and look in public! Thanks.
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                  Posted in Eurozone | 15 Comments

                  Towards a progressive concept of efficiency – Part 2

                  This is Part 2 of my discussion of how a progressive agenda can escape the straitjacket of neo-liberal thinking and broaden how it presents policy initiatives that have been declared taboo in the current conservative, free market Groupthink. Today, I compare and contrast the neo-liberal vision of efficiency, which is embedded in its view of the relationship between the people, the natural environment and the economy, with what I consider to be a progressive vision, which elevates our focus to Society and sees people embedded organically and necessarily within the living natural environment. It envisions an economy that is created by us, controlled by us and capable of delivering outcomes which advance the well-being of all citizens rather than being a vehicle to advance the prosperity of only a small proportion of citizens.

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                    Posted in Demise of the Left | 7 Comments

                    Towards a progressive concept of efficiency – Part 1

                    Before I present the second part of my discussion about the relevance of re-nationalisation to what I would call a truly progressive policy agenda, we have to take a step backward. I note after the first part – Brexit signals that a new policy paradigm is required including re-nationalisation – there were a few comments posted (and many more E-mails received – apparently readers are happier berating me personally rather than putting their ideas out in the public domain) that I was advocating a return to the ‘bad’ old days of nationalisation where cronyism, inefficiency and trade union bastardry were the norm. The obvious next point was – how can I claim that is progressive and part of the future. In this two part blog (the second part will come tomorrow), I offer a framework for assessing these claims. Today’s blog foscuses on the neo-liberal vision of efficiency and reveals how narrow and biased towards private profit it is. In Part 2 (tomorrow) I will present the progressive vision and how it conditions the way we think of efficiency. Once we break out of the neo-liberal constructs and refocus our attention on Society rather than the individual then the way we appraise policy options also changes – it becomes enriched with new possibilities and understandings. We enter the progressive world and leave behind the austerity nightmare that neo-liberalism has created. We are then able to see how our old conceptions of nationalised industries or public sector job creation are tainted with these neo-liberal biases. And we are then able to see how policy initiatives that invoke scorn from the conservatives and many so-called modern progressives (obsessed with post modern constructs) have a vital role to play in a truly progressive manifesto. I split the discussion into two parts because the blogs are too long as they are.
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                      Posted in Demise of the Left | 16 Comments